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What about the Baby?: Some Thoughts on the Art of Fiction

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A collection of essays, lectures, and observations on the art of writing fiction from an expert novelist Look: Artistic inspiration, religious faith, does not come to most of us with the beating of wings or the leaping of flames or the cinematic, middle-of-the-night aha moment that cuts to an acceptance speech in Stockholm. It comes through long effort, through moving ahead A collection of essays, lectures, and observations on the art of writing fiction from an expert novelist Look: Artistic inspiration, religious faith, does not come to most of us with the beating of wings or the leaping of flames or the cinematic, middle-of-the-night aha moment that cuts to an acceptance speech in Stockholm. It comes through long effort, through moving ahead and falling back, through working in the dark. It comes to us in moments of passionate intuition and over long days and nights of painful silence. It arrives in the usual and yet miraculous confluence of ordinary events. It comes and goes. It leaves us in doubt. It is sustained by doubt. It is the work of a lifetime. What About the Baby? Some Thoughts on the Art of Fiction gathers Alice McDermott's essays and lectures regarding her own "work of a lifetime" as a bestselling novelist and professor of writing. From technical advice ("check that your verbs aren't burdened by unnecessary hads and woulds") to setting the bar ("I expect the fiction I read to carry with it the conviction that it is written with no other incentive than it must be written"), from the demands of readers ("they'd been given a story with a baby in it and they damn well wanted that baby accounted for"), to the foibles of public life ("I've never subscribed to the notion that a movie adaptation is the final imprimatur for a work of fiction--despite how often I've been told by encouraging friends and strangers: Maybe they'll make a movie of your novel . . . as if I'd been aiming for a screenplay all along but somehow missed the mark and wrote a novel by mistake"), McDermott muses delightfully about the art and the craft of literary creation. She also serves throughout as the wise and witty conductor of a literary chorus, quoting generously from the work of various greats (Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Nabokov, Morrison, Woolf, and more), beautifully joining her own voice with theirs. These stories of lessons learned, books read, the terrors and the joys of what she calls "this mad pursuit," form a rich and truly useful collection for readers and writers alike: a deeply charming meditation on the gift that is literature.


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A collection of essays, lectures, and observations on the art of writing fiction from an expert novelist Look: Artistic inspiration, religious faith, does not come to most of us with the beating of wings or the leaping of flames or the cinematic, middle-of-the-night aha moment that cuts to an acceptance speech in Stockholm. It comes through long effort, through moving ahead A collection of essays, lectures, and observations on the art of writing fiction from an expert novelist Look: Artistic inspiration, religious faith, does not come to most of us with the beating of wings or the leaping of flames or the cinematic, middle-of-the-night aha moment that cuts to an acceptance speech in Stockholm. It comes through long effort, through moving ahead and falling back, through working in the dark. It comes to us in moments of passionate intuition and over long days and nights of painful silence. It arrives in the usual and yet miraculous confluence of ordinary events. It comes and goes. It leaves us in doubt. It is sustained by doubt. It is the work of a lifetime. What About the Baby? Some Thoughts on the Art of Fiction gathers Alice McDermott's essays and lectures regarding her own "work of a lifetime" as a bestselling novelist and professor of writing. From technical advice ("check that your verbs aren't burdened by unnecessary hads and woulds") to setting the bar ("I expect the fiction I read to carry with it the conviction that it is written with no other incentive than it must be written"), from the demands of readers ("they'd been given a story with a baby in it and they damn well wanted that baby accounted for"), to the foibles of public life ("I've never subscribed to the notion that a movie adaptation is the final imprimatur for a work of fiction--despite how often I've been told by encouraging friends and strangers: Maybe they'll make a movie of your novel . . . as if I'd been aiming for a screenplay all along but somehow missed the mark and wrote a novel by mistake"), McDermott muses delightfully about the art and the craft of literary creation. She also serves throughout as the wise and witty conductor of a literary chorus, quoting generously from the work of various greats (Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Nabokov, Morrison, Woolf, and more), beautifully joining her own voice with theirs. These stories of lessons learned, books read, the terrors and the joys of what she calls "this mad pursuit," form a rich and truly useful collection for readers and writers alike: a deeply charming meditation on the gift that is literature.

30 review for What about the Baby?: Some Thoughts on the Art of Fiction

  1. 5 out of 5

    Angela M

    Although a good portion of this collection contains great advice to aspiring writers, of which I am not, I found it to be so much more . I have been such a fan of Alice McDermott’s writing for years. I’ve read all of her novels. This was a joy to read because it gave me a little bit of a view into her personal life as a wife, a mother, a teacher and most of all a glimpse into the heart and soul of a writer, one of my favorites. The opening essay “What I Expect” should be read by every avid read Although a good portion of this collection contains great advice to aspiring writers, of which I am not, I found it to be so much more . I have been such a fan of Alice McDermott’s writing for years. I’ve read all of her novels. This was a joy to read because it gave me a little bit of a view into her personal life as a wife, a mother, a teacher and most of all a glimpse into the heart and soul of a writer, one of my favorites. The opening essay “What I Expect” should be read by every avid reader of fiction. I was blown away. McDermott’s expectations for fiction are high and many, noting that she expects these things both from what she writes and what she reads. If you don’t already, reading this piece will make you want the same. I was hesitant to include quotes here because she chides reviewers who list quotes rather than discussing the writing, but I really couldn’t do justice by paraphrasing some of her thoughts on fiction, so I am compelled to give a few, apologies in advance . “The solace of art”, fiction that recognizes “joy in all its gradations and complications, in its longevity and brevity, as vividly as it recognizes sorrow.” “I expect fiction to be about the pain and sweetness of life.” “I expect fiction to be about lives that are not my own. And yet I expect fiction to be truer than life — yours, mine and everybody else’s…” “I expect the language in fiction not merely to tell a story and to create a character and to place that character in a particular moment that obliterates time; language in fiction must also record, re-create, what is intuited but never heard, sensed but never experienced.” “I expect fiction to seek to make sense of life and death—yours, mine, and everybody else’s.” She so beautifully articulates why we read fiction. She includes excerpts of stories and novels, Shakespeare’s plays to emphasize her points, her lessons about connections, about the importance of the language, always the language. Besides giving her own perspective on writing fiction, she shares the thoughts of a few other writers on the subject, including Tolstoy, Welty and Faulkner. I loved her discussion of movie adaptations of books, brilliantly explaining why I pretty much always like the book more . I was just so moved by the last entry in the book where she discusses at an event with Frank McCourt, as they sit on stage in a pub like setting “ just two writers, two readers, talking about what matters most, memory, heart, words, the film in the mind, the magic of literary creations….Embrace the astonishing reality of a vivid world, a created world, formed only of words on a page. It’s a gift.” As was this book. I highly recommend this to fans of McDermott’s writing. I highly recommend it to aspiring writers of fiction. I recommend it to anyone who loves literature even if you haven’t read any of her novels because there are so many things here that will touch your mind and your literary heart. If you don’t think this kind of book is for you, then I would say at least read her novels. You’d be missing out if you don’t. I don’t reread many books, but reading this collection has made me want to read her novels again. Thanks to my GR book sister, Cheri, whose beautiful review led me to this. I received an advanced copy of this book from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux through Edelweiss.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Cheri

    ’I expect the fiction I read to carry with it the conviction that it is written with no other incentive than that it must be written.’ What About the Baby? Some Thoughts on the Art of Fiction offers various discourses, lectures, and examinations on writing, the art of it, as well as a glimpse into the life of a writer. It begins by sharing a news story that begins on June 17, 2001 when the lives of three Irish Catholic New York City firemen lost their lives fighting a fire in Astoria, Queens. ’I expect the fiction I read to carry with it the conviction that it is written with no other incentive than that it must be written.’ What About the Baby? Some Thoughts on the Art of Fiction offers various discourses, lectures, and examinations on writing, the art of it, as well as a glimpse into the life of a writer. It begins by sharing a news story that begins on June 17, 2001 when the lives of three Irish Catholic New York City firemen lost their lives fighting a fire in Astoria, Queens. which prompted her to read ’White Gardens’a short story by Mark Helprin, a fictional tale of a similar event. At the end of sharing that story, McDermott says: ’Language in fiction is obliged to invoke what cannot be said, what Virginia Woolf called in To the Lighthouse “the voice of the beauty of the world.” ’I expect a lot of fiction--of mine and yours and everybody else’s.’ One of the pleasures of being able to read and share our thoughts on books is knowing that others also share theirs. I know, for me, that viewing the thoughts of others, or even seeing that someone is reading a book we loved is a momentary remembrance of a lovely selection, a phrase, a character that we rooted for, or a moment that made our heart soar, or made us smile. What we read, the best of it, becomes a part of us, and a part of how we view the world. It helps us to understand the lives and tribulations of others, relate to their sufferings, their joys, their failings and successes. It refines our sense of compassion. It helps us, as McDermott says, make sense of life and death. Several stories, or excerpts from stories, are shared in this collection that offers many different illustrations of fictional stories that meet her expectations. Some by famous authors, and others by lesser known authors. All contain a kind of storyteller’s magic that makes it worth reading, and McDermott shares her thoughts on what she sees as a the ’conjuring’ through words, of a place, the sound of a voice which magically transport us so that we can see and hear and feel it all through the author’s words. A wonderfully compelling glimpse into a life of writing, a master class on the craft, including excerpts by Woolf, Shakespeare, Morrison, Tolstoy as well as several others. But the heart and soul of this is the joy, and yes the frustrations, of living the life of a writer, and one who appreciates not only the gift-through-work of inspiration, but also the effort. The long hours and seemingly endless revisions which lead to those moments where this gift they have will be shared with the world. ’It is the work of a lifetime.’ Published: 17 Aug 2021 Many thanks for the ARC provided by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

  3. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    We all have authors we trust for our favored genres. I love the way this author writes, the meticulous way she constructs her stories, so for fiction, she is one of mine. This book, describes the craft of writing fiction. What she thinks is important, the trade of her craft, so to speak. First sentence, what makes this opening a memorable and we'll written one. She compares and contrasts paragraphs from many different writers. Those that work, those she found lacking. Reading and rereading every We all have authors we trust for our favored genres. I love the way this author writes, the meticulous way she constructs her stories, so for fiction, she is one of mine. This book, describes the craft of writing fiction. What she thinks is important, the trade of her craft, so to speak. First sentence, what makes this opening a memorable and we'll written one. She compares and contrasts paragraphs from many different writers. Those that work, those she found lacking. Reading and rereading everything written down. Continually checking that all your plot points are on target. A book for those who want to write fiction but also a book that shows a reader how to read. Understanding how a book is assembled, put together so a reader can connect and remember. The book opens with a wonderful story she read in a Irish magazine. A story about a man and dog, rather simple in the telling but one she repeats to other people, many times. I loved this story and I too have repeated it to others. A story that works on many levels. This was a very useful and interesting book. Well done, but then again, I didn't expect anything less. ARC from Edelweiss..

  4. 4 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    I'm not a writer, just a reader, but a thoughtful reader who likes to read authors who assume I have some intelligence. That takes an author who thinks about every word and nuance she puts on the page, which is appreciated very much by those of us us who like a little depth to our novels. As opposed to those author/marketers who write to a formula and crank them out once a month or so. Alice McDermott's thoughts on the art of fiction are not a how-to manual but her feelings on what she demands a I'm not a writer, just a reader, but a thoughtful reader who likes to read authors who assume I have some intelligence. That takes an author who thinks about every word and nuance she puts on the page, which is appreciated very much by those of us us who like a little depth to our novels. As opposed to those author/marketers who write to a formula and crank them out once a month or so. Alice McDermott's thoughts on the art of fiction are not a how-to manual but her feelings on what she demands as a reader and what she demands of herself as she writes. We are also treated to little snippets of her past and present life, and a great many passages and quotes from other authors to demonstrate her views. I really enjoyed my time with her, and recommend this highly to anyone who is a McDermott fan. Or just a fan of excellence in the books you read in general.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    What a pleasure to get a full class on fiction from a master. Nobody writes like Alice McDermott, and I have not met anyone who doesn't love her books. In addition to writing, she has been a professor in several universities and is currently Professor of Humanities at Johns Hopkins. And yet, she's also got a family. In these essays she explores what fiction means in the greater world, the difficulties of writing it well, and the challenges faced by fiction writers when asked "Is it real? Did thi What a pleasure to get a full class on fiction from a master. Nobody writes like Alice McDermott, and I have not met anyone who doesn't love her books. In addition to writing, she has been a professor in several universities and is currently Professor of Humanities at Johns Hopkins. And yet, she's also got a family. In these essays she explores what fiction means in the greater world, the difficulties of writing it well, and the challenges faced by fiction writers when asked "Is it real? Did this really happen?" The memorist or the creator. Where do writers get their ideas. There are as many answers to these thoughts as there are writers, and here we learn from one of the best.

  6. 4 out of 5

    K✨

    Accomplished the rare feat of not only making me want to write something beautiful, but also making me believe it’s possible.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Cherise Wolas

    Not an aspiring writer how-to, but essays and a speech McDermott gave, filled with wisdom, style, wit and humor, and a bit of memoir, that might be as interesting for serious readers as they are for writers - serious writers might find useful suggestions, ways of thinking, reminders perhaps, aspiring ones might unlearn bad lessons and shuck bad advice. The truth is writing is a compulsion, and one can't be taught to be a writer, but a writer can become a better writer, and readers can become bet Not an aspiring writer how-to, but essays and a speech McDermott gave, filled with wisdom, style, wit and humor, and a bit of memoir, that might be as interesting for serious readers as they are for writers - serious writers might find useful suggestions, ways of thinking, reminders perhaps, aspiring ones might unlearn bad lessons and shuck bad advice. The truth is writing is a compulsion, and one can't be taught to be a writer, but a writer can become a better writer, and readers can become better readers, with a clearer sense of what a writer is doing, the care taken, the depths to which the story or novel goes, to see beyond what has become more status quo - readers seeking out books with "relatable" characters, characters who would be their friends, receiving confirmation of themselves in the pages, rather than seeking out writing that is fuller and does more, goes further. And writing that is fuller and does more and goes further does not mean stories and novels that are incomprehensible, but rather possess that timelessness, which is one mark that separates the prosaic from the more rare. The essays include passages by Dickens, Faulkner, Nabokov, Woolf, and others, with suggestions about how to think that are applicable not only to writing but also to life - the pursuit of individuality, clarity, sincerity, tenderness, attention to the details, what is salient and what is not, sowing the seeds, looking for consequences, for patterns. I found lovely and thoughtful validation in McDermott's words for how I myself work. Strangely, I've not read any of her novels, and it might be time.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kris - My Novelesque Life

    RATING: 3.5 STARS 2021; Farrar, Straus and Giroux (audiobook: Macmillan Audio) I did a mix of this one on audio and physical book (from the library). I wanted to see (visually) some of the concepts and writings that McDermott explained. I was a bit sad to see/hear that someone other than McDermott narrated the book. Not being able to take a writing course by McDermott, it would have been cool to hear her voice as she lectured. I did enjoy the book, as it was musings on writing fiction from McDermo RATING: 3.5 STARS 2021; Farrar, Straus and Giroux (audiobook: Macmillan Audio) I did a mix of this one on audio and physical book (from the library). I wanted to see (visually) some of the concepts and writings that McDermott explained. I was a bit sad to see/hear that someone other than McDermott narrated the book. Not being able to take a writing course by McDermott, it would have been cool to hear her voice as she lectured. I did enjoy the book, as it was musings on writing fiction from McDermott's experiences. I have only read one book by McDermott (That Night) but all her novels are on my TBR. If you are interesting in writing, or like the behind scenes look, I would say try this one. It is on the shorter side so not a huge commitment. ***I received a complimentary copy of this audiobook from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.***

  9. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    Delightful! I am a reader, not a writer, but I really enjoyed this 'peek behind the curtain' at the process and the work of fiction writers. Charming and funny, a real pleasure to read. Certainly gave me a lot of sympathy for a writer's lot, but won't stop me from posting scathing reviews on Goodreads :-). Delightful! I am a reader, not a writer, but I really enjoyed this 'peek behind the curtain' at the process and the work of fiction writers. Charming and funny, a real pleasure to read. Certainly gave me a lot of sympathy for a writer's lot, but won't stop me from posting scathing reviews on Goodreads :-).

  10. 5 out of 5

    Iva

    I am about to praise Alice McDermott. Not only a superb novelist, she knows literature. She uses examples from writers, mostly from the 19th and 20th century, to show how novels and short stories evolve. Her experience as a teacher of creative writing in workshops and colleges enhances her sharp observations. I especially enjoyed her analysis of Passage to India by E.M Forster. She dives into plots, loves first sentences and gives multiple examples. One doesn't have to be a writer to enjoy this I am about to praise Alice McDermott. Not only a superb novelist, she knows literature. She uses examples from writers, mostly from the 19th and 20th century, to show how novels and short stories evolve. Her experience as a teacher of creative writing in workshops and colleges enhances her sharp observations. I especially enjoyed her analysis of Passage to India by E.M Forster. She dives into plots, loves first sentences and gives multiple examples. One doesn't have to be a writer to enjoy this book. And I am going to back to her novels, informed by her insights.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    This book needs to be on every author’s bookshelf regardless of whether she is a published or an aspiring author. “What about the Baby?” is full of wondrous advice that doesn’t read like a full-of-himself lecturer pontificating on a topic he has little real knowledge about. For instance, McDermott says, “I expect fiction to be about the pain and sweetness of life.” This gem is true for every writer regardless of the genre being created. And there are dozens of other jewels like this scattered thr This book needs to be on every author’s bookshelf regardless of whether she is a published or an aspiring author. “What about the Baby?” is full of wondrous advice that doesn’t read like a full-of-himself lecturer pontificating on a topic he has little real knowledge about. For instance, McDermott says, “I expect fiction to be about the pain and sweetness of life.” This gem is true for every writer regardless of the genre being created. And there are dozens of other jewels like this scattered throughout the book. If you’ve ever thought about writing fiction or have been writing it for years, this book is for you. My thanks to Macmillan and Edelweiss for an eARC.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Moonkiszt

    Alice McDermott's latest is a love letter to the act of writing, praise to the muse that contains it, caresses on the genii bottle that keeps it safe and frees it when the right words release it. The book is a tender journal of and about the writers she most loves; ones who pop her cork and thrill her with bubbles. It was a gentle ride through the lands of her thoughts as a reader, the ones that tossed her out when her yearn to write overcame her and she became a different kind of reader entirely Alice McDermott's latest is a love letter to the act of writing, praise to the muse that contains it, caresses on the genii bottle that keeps it safe and frees it when the right words release it. The book is a tender journal of and about the writers she most loves; ones who pop her cork and thrill her with bubbles. It was a gentle ride through the lands of her thoughts as a reader, the ones that tossed her out when her yearn to write overcame her and she became a different kind of reader entirely - one who wanders into lands that are as yet undescribed, where characters impatiently wait their turn. . . a green room that wonders beyond the act of reading. Mostly, a come-hither to write, if you will, to the writers who yet haven't. However, for readers - this is a lovely read for those who appreciate the occasional glance over the cliff, or standing in the spray behind the waterfall, or whose rock-gripping toeholds are all that keeps a body at a hard lean against the breeze while the winking deep dive patiently waits. . . but who finally back away from such seduction to . . . .read. A sincere thanks to Alice McDermott, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and NetGalley for an arc to read and review.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    What About the Baby isn’t so much a how-to book as it is a look into the writer’s soul. Sure, McDermott gives a lot of sound advice, but she also gives voice to the thoughts and insecurities every writer experiences. It’s the kind of book writers of all levels of experience will love. As a writer myself, I appreciated her honesty and candor about writing life. Thanks Netgalley for the advanced read. This is my honest review.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    I was captivated when I heard McDermott speak at the SVWC several years ago. The talk she gave was the first annual Frank McCourt Memorial Lecture and the title was "Remembrance of Things that never happened: The art of memoir, The Art of fiction." It was a brilliantly constructed essay in which she concluded: "What I'm trying to tell you, dear readers, is this: Why ask,'Did this really happen?' Why insult both art and truth....Embrace the astonishing reality of a vivid world, a created world, f I was captivated when I heard McDermott speak at the SVWC several years ago. The talk she gave was the first annual Frank McCourt Memorial Lecture and the title was "Remembrance of Things that never happened: The art of memoir, The Art of fiction." It was a brilliantly constructed essay in which she concluded: "What I'm trying to tell you, dear readers, is this: Why ask,'Did this really happen?' Why insult both art and truth....Embrace the astonishing reality of a vivid world, a created world, formed only of words on a page. It's a gift." The book is no flip collection of advice to aspiring writers; rather it is a serious examination of the writing process and how great fiction happens. Alice McDermott is in many ways an ordinary person. She's had a steady career writing 9 novels, has taught writing for years, and lives a seemingly very normal life with a husband and children. Yet she is an extraordinary writer and this book is full of serious thinking about the writing life and its challenges: "If you can do anything else, I tell aspiring writers now, if you can do anything other than pursue this literary fiction thing and still sleep at night and wake joyful in the morning and know that the hours of your days have been well spent, then you should do that--that other thing. The beauty of the advice is how quickly it clarifies, for some of us what we've always known: Of course we can't. We can't."

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ann Douglas

    I discovered this book via my very favourite podcast about writing: First Draft: A Dialogue on Writing. (The podcast host, Mitzi Rapkin, interviewed Alice McDermott on the January 3, 2022, episode of the show.) As it turned out, I was in the middle of reading Alice McDermott's novel That Night at the time, so I was particularly captivated by the conversation and eager to pick up McDermott's craft book as well. What I love about this craft book is what I loved about the novel: the emphasis on fict I discovered this book via my very favourite podcast about writing: First Draft: A Dialogue on Writing. (The podcast host, Mitzi Rapkin, interviewed Alice McDermott on the January 3, 2022, episode of the show.) As it turned out, I was in the middle of reading Alice McDermott's novel That Night at the time, so I was particularly captivated by the conversation and eager to pick up McDermott's craft book as well. What I love about this craft book is what I loved about the novel: the emphasis on fiction as a vehicle for creating complex characters living in complex worlds. As McDermott writes: "I expect fiction to reject one-dimensional characters, easy stereotypes, ready-to-hand cliches, to contain, consistently, characters who, if they don't shine with the light of their uniquely individual souls, shimmer at least with that soul's unplumbed or as yet unillustrated possibilities." Beautiful stuff....

  16. 4 out of 5

    Maria-Anne

    I think any author or vivid reader will like this book This book is written for both established writers and starting out writers. The finer point of writing a fiction novel are discussed and explained. I listened to the audio version. Angela Dawe did such a great job. Showing determination in “how to” in her voice that I could just picture her in front of a classroom making sure all the student understood what she was talking about. I’m not a writer and have no intentions of been one but I thorou I think any author or vivid reader will like this book This book is written for both established writers and starting out writers. The finer point of writing a fiction novel are discussed and explained. I listened to the audio version. Angela Dawe did such a great job. Showing determination in “how to” in her voice that I could just picture her in front of a classroom making sure all the student understood what she was talking about. I’m not a writer and have no intentions of been one but I thoroughly enjoyed this book because it gave me a better appreciation of the better written fiction book and it was fun to listen to the examples given.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Theresa Shea

    I love Alice McDermott's writing. I have read and re-read her novels countless times, hoping some of her talent might rub off. It's a great cosmic joke that I'm a novelist because one of my biggest character defects is impatience. I am too often guilty of just wanting to be DONE with a novel that has taken me years to craft, but this book reminds me to slow down, to read the sentences, to re-read the sentences, and to embrace any unexpected detours as they come, for I love stories. I always have I love Alice McDermott's writing. I have read and re-read her novels countless times, hoping some of her talent might rub off. It's a great cosmic joke that I'm a novelist because one of my biggest character defects is impatience. I am too often guilty of just wanting to be DONE with a novel that has taken me years to craft, but this book reminds me to slow down, to read the sentences, to re-read the sentences, and to embrace any unexpected detours as they come, for I love stories. I always have, and I always will. As September rolls around and I think of sharpening my pencil (metaphorically speaking) and getting back to the draft of my current book, I feel re-energized. There's great wisdom and humour in the book. I couldn't put it down and likely read too quickly as a result; but now that I've finished, I'm about to start over again and really savour the contents. It's not just that I share her Irish American heritage and SEE myself and my own family in her books that makes me such an admirer; rather, it's that her insights into the many facets of what it means to be human are profound and described in exquisite language. In short, read this book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Howard Cincotta

    Alice McDermott is an extraordinary writer, and based on the evidence, any young writer should leap at a chance to attend one of her workshops. But any aspiring novelists who pick up this book expecting specific hard-won tips on writing will be disappointed. Such nuggets are few and far between. As compensation, however, they well be inspired by the McDermott's real motive: to write about her fierce love of literature and her absolute dedication to the craft of writing. McDermott writes beautiful Alice McDermott is an extraordinary writer, and based on the evidence, any young writer should leap at a chance to attend one of her workshops. But any aspiring novelists who pick up this book expecting specific hard-won tips on writing will be disappointed. Such nuggets are few and far between. As compensation, however, they well be inspired by the McDermott's real motive: to write about her fierce love of literature and her absolute dedication to the craft of writing. McDermott writes beautifully about writing; no surprise there. She also excels in the excerpts that she presents for our edification. Do these examples contain valuable writing lessons? Of course, but great writing is always elusive as well as eloquent. A better tactic is to emulate McDermott herself, sit back and let these passages by Tolstoy, Flannery O'Connor, Philip Roth, Katherine Anne Porter, E.M. Forster, et. al., flow in and out of your head. After all, if you are successful, you will never end up writing like any of them, but only like yourself. I did enjoy one writing workshop staple that any regular attendee can relate to: the defensive statement that "it really happened that way." McDermott makes obvious point: no one cares. All that matters is the story. McDermott takes this argument to its limits by arguing that fiction and memory create their own reality, blurring lines between story and memoir. Hardly a controversial position for the novel, but one that can be problematic with nonfiction. McDermott seems indifferent to that particular debate. She quotes Vladimir Nabokov: "We should remember that the work of art is invariably the creation of a new world … To call a story a true story is an insult to both art and truth." McDermott concludes by celebrating this idea in the remembrance of a joint appearance with memoirist Frank McCourt, which itself was an exercise in storytelling and memory: The Dutch historian Johan Huizinga wrote about "our perpetual astonishment that the past was once a living reality" …. In the writer's hands, however, the past does indeed become a living reality, but a living reality infused — as it could not be, in the moment it is experienced, the moment in "real life" — with the fragrant tenderness that only posterity can discern.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sharon L

    Beautiful love letter to the art of writing and reading. I wish I knew more of the literature referenced as it would have deepened my understanding of the author's ideas, but it isn't necessary for comprehension. In this work we are given a collection of essays ranging from crafting the first sentence and it's weight to examining the life of a writer. Many reviews state that this book is for writers or a handbook for writers, but I think it is equally, and possibly more so, for readers. For this Beautiful love letter to the art of writing and reading. I wish I knew more of the literature referenced as it would have deepened my understanding of the author's ideas, but it isn't necessary for comprehension. In this work we are given a collection of essays ranging from crafting the first sentence and it's weight to examining the life of a writer. Many reviews state that this book is for writers or a handbook for writers, but I think it is equally, and possibly more so, for readers. For this book gives you tools to understand the craft of writing just a little more. People who love the act of reading will enjoy this collection of essays. Audiobook was well narrated and enjoyable to listen to. It's been several weeks now that I've read it and have wanted to find quotes which is nearly impossible with an audiobook without rereading large sections. The audiobook is very well done but in this case, I suggest a print book for your shelf as you'll want to reference the poetic passages. Thanks to NetGalley for an ARC audiobook in exchange for an honest review.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Drea

    Gorgeous. This is a book I’ll buy a physical copy of and revisit often. Referencing many passages of different authors and writers and others, McDermott actually expounded on my love for words and sentences and reading. I loved every word of this breathtaking book. Heartfelt thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux for the copy of this lovely book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    BookTrib.com

    Writing students, well-published authors and fans of McDermott’s novels alike will benefit from the advice and celebration of fiction that she presents in this wonderful collection. Read our full review here: https://booktrib.com/2021/08/16/alice... Writing students, well-published authors and fans of McDermott’s novels alike will benefit from the advice and celebration of fiction that she presents in this wonderful collection. Read our full review here: https://booktrib.com/2021/08/16/alice...

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jesse

    Alice McDermott loves to write, and you can tell. These essays about the art and craft of writing simply sparkle.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    Like Ann, Alice is perfection. Made me wish I could write!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley, and to Alice McDermott for providing a digital ARC in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. In What About the Baby?, Alice McDermott, a Johns Hopkins University Humanities professor and author of the novel Charming Billy as well as seven other novels, offers essays and wisdom on spirituality and writing. Much of the book is underpinned by supporting literature, which she cites to bolster each of her writerly dictums. As an avid reader, Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley, and to Alice McDermott for providing a digital ARC in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. In What About the Baby?, Alice McDermott, a Johns Hopkins University Humanities professor and author of the novel Charming Billy as well as seven other novels, offers essays and wisdom on spirituality and writing. Much of the book is underpinned by supporting literature, which she cites to bolster each of her writerly dictums. As an avid reader, I loved hearing what everyone from Tolstoy to Billy Collins has to say about the craft of writing. Also as a reader, I had hoped much of McDermott's book would be her own work-- some sections of the book reminded me, a little, of essays I padded with quotations to meet word count. Every work she cites is gorgeous and worth reading in its own right, so I didn't mind (too much), but still. McDermott being a formidable writer in her own right, my very favorite sections were the ones that sprang from her own experience, not reading log, especially her essays on spirituality and how her Catholicism informs her writing. This is where we get to the meat of what she is trying to say, that what is behind the human experience of the numinous is also the same source for art, including writing. This is an extremely worthwhile read for anyone who loves reading, loves writing, and wants a deeper, more nuanced understanding of Why Humans Write. It's like having lunch with a brilliant and accomplished writer friend who still manages to be humble and approachable. McDermott doesn't come off even a little snobbish (though she has every reason to be!) but rather cheers on anyone who dares put one writing page in front of another in pursuit of writing. I would highly recommend this one.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sarah McCraw Crow

    Alice McDermott’s essays in this collection—some of these are craft lectures she gave at Sewanee Writers Conference—range over decades of fiction writing. It’s not a memoir, but still, there’s a kind of piecemeal memoir within these essays, which delve into her Irish Catholic NYC girlhood, coming of age in the Woodstock era, and beginning to write fiction. I loved the title essay and “Advice from Me to Me,” which is much more specific and evocative than the usual “advice-to-my-younger-self essay Alice McDermott’s essays in this collection—some of these are craft lectures she gave at Sewanee Writers Conference—range over decades of fiction writing. It’s not a memoir, but still, there’s a kind of piecemeal memoir within these essays, which delve into her Irish Catholic NYC girlhood, coming of age in the Woodstock era, and beginning to write fiction. I loved the title essay and “Advice from Me to Me,” which is much more specific and evocative than the usual “advice-to-my-younger-self essay. Alice McDermott is one of my all-time favorite novelists, and this glimpse at her thoughts on writing is encouraging. Also McDermott refers to to E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel, and Forster's theme in Howard's End of "only connect," which in turn reminded me how much I love Howard's End, so I’ve returned to it, this time listening on audio as I gardened these last couple of days.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    I love Alice McDermott’s novels, and this collection of lectures from her years teaching writing at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference was just as pleasurable to read as her fiction. McDermott mixes writing advice from famous writers with her own witty words of wisdom—and lavishly illustrates this advice with excerpted examples from her books as well as those of many other writers—to produce a reading experience that is extremely valuable for the aspiring writer and just plain fun for the avid read I love Alice McDermott’s novels, and this collection of lectures from her years teaching writing at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference was just as pleasurable to read as her fiction. McDermott mixes writing advice from famous writers with her own witty words of wisdom—and lavishly illustrates this advice with excerpted examples from her books as well as those of many other writers—to produce a reading experience that is extremely valuable for the aspiring writer and just plain fun for the avid reader. Loved it and highly recommend. Thank you to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for providing me with an ARC of this title in return for my honest review.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Amelia

    Insightful, inspiring & interesting. It definitely has literary snob overtones & I’m ok with that. While I’ve opened up myself to experiencing easier reads, I still prefer literature. Quality works need to be created & read. If this isn’t one’s aim as a writer then this book is best skipped. As a former print journalist I enjoyed the writing advice & as a reader there was still much to absorb. Just the autobiographical bits made picking this up worth it. Alice McDermott writing about writing is a Insightful, inspiring & interesting. It definitely has literary snob overtones & I’m ok with that. While I’ve opened up myself to experiencing easier reads, I still prefer literature. Quality works need to be created & read. If this isn’t one’s aim as a writer then this book is best skipped. As a former print journalist I enjoyed the writing advice & as a reader there was still much to absorb. Just the autobiographical bits made picking this up worth it. Alice McDermott writing about writing is as enjoyable as one would expect. I received access to the audiobook on NetGalley. The narration was well done. I will likely buy a hard copy as well for reference.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Clare McHugh

    I believe this book is destined to be a classic, a resource for both writers and readers—for anyone who wants to understand the purpose of fiction, and the way it's best constructed. Also, it concerns what makes fiction work in its glorious variety. McDermott draws upon her own experience as a novelist and a teacher, but also reports on what other great masters of fiction have to say about process and form. It's a book, too, about faith, and the how the "problems of the human heart in conflict w I believe this book is destined to be a classic, a resource for both writers and readers—for anyone who wants to understand the purpose of fiction, and the way it's best constructed. Also, it concerns what makes fiction work in its glorious variety. McDermott draws upon her own experience as a novelist and a teacher, but also reports on what other great masters of fiction have to say about process and form. It's a book, too, about faith, and the how the "problems of the human heart in conflict with itself" are at the core of enduring stories. Lovely lovely lovely.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Z

    Too many quotations for my taste.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Hess

    Just about perfect. If you are interested in fiction writing, read it. HIghly recommended.

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